Pa rum pum pum pum. Record companies are drumming up holiday sales with an abundance of new releases, compilations and reissues designed to provide your personal soundtrack to the season.
Pa rum pum pum pum.
Record companies are drumming up holiday sales with an abundance of new releases, compilations and reissues designed to provide your personal soundtrack to the season.
Practically every recording artist wants to make a Christmas album because it can go back on sale year after year, and maybe even become a seasonal favorite. And those original recordings can be updated with additional songs and reissued again and again. The season also brings compilations filled with a variety of seasonal fare.
Here is some of this year’s crop of Christmas music:
“Noel” Josh Groban (143/Warner/Reprise)
Groban’s big, dramatic voice is perfect for soaring, emotionally charged Christmas classics such as “Ave Maria,” “The First Noel” (a duet with Faith Hill) and “O Come All Ye Faithful” (done up big with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). Groban and producer David Foster manage to create original versions of “Silent Night”; “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (with touchingly personal sound bites from American soldiers overseas); and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” with Groban on piano.
“In the Swing of Christmas” Barry Manilow (Hallmark)
And, boy, does he swing! Manilow really lets loose on this year’s exclusive Hallmark Gold Crown Christmas album, available only at Hallmark stores. The opening cut of “Silver Bells” is arranged to death, with a 26-track vocal, all sung by Manilow. “Carol of the Bells/Jingle Bells” is over the top, too, but at least it’s original. He settles down to deliver fine, straightforward versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “O Tannenbaum/Winter Wonderland” and a cool and beautiful “Christmas Time is Here.” A couple of not-really-Christmas tunes, “Count Your Blessings” and “Violets for Your Furs,” fit perfectly.
“Miss Patti’s Christmas” Patti LaBelle (Def Soul Classics)
“Let’s jam!” she sings in the opening cut, “Christmas Jam,” a hip-hop flavored new song by the album’s producers, the superstar team of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. They wrote three other originals for LaBelle: the mellow, nostalgic “Holidays Mean More to Me”; the romantic “It’s Going To Be A Merry Christmas”; and the powerful, gospelly “Nativity.” Also includes covers of The Emotions’ “What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas?” and the Luther Vandross staple “Every Year, Every Christmas.”
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” The Isley Brothers featuring Ronald Isley (Def Soul Classics)
Jam & Lewis also produced this one, with the tender voice of Ronald Isley caressing songs such as “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “The Christmas Song” and “White Christmas.” Jam & Lewis wrote two new originals for Isley, the slow-jamming “What Can I Buy You?” and the funky, romantic “I’m In Love.”
“The KT Tunstall Holiday Collection” KT Tunstall (Target/EMI)
One of the most promising new artists to emerge in 2007, Tunstall was wisely tapped by Target for a six-song CD available only at Target stores. Includes a cover of the Pretenders’ outstanding “2000 Miles” as well as fun versions of “Sleigh Ride” and “Mele Kalikimaka (Christmas In Hawaii)” and several ballads that benefit from Tunstall’s fine voice.
“Christmas Wish” Olivia Newton-John (Target)
A beautiful collection with 22 cuts, only a dozen of which are vocals. The other 10 are instrumental interludes of familiar carols, such as “Away in a Manger” and “Deck The Halls.” Newton-John and producer Amy Sky wrote new carols, including the sweet “Every Time It Snows”; the overly sweet “A Mother’s Christmas Wish”; and a doo-wop “Christmas on My Radio,” which sounds like an outtake from the “Grease” soundtrack. Available only at Target stores.
“It’s Christmas, Of Course” Darlene Love (Shout)
Love takes an original approach, devoting her first holiday disc to songs from the 1970s and ’80s, all of them originally recorded by such artists as James Brown, The Pretenders, Tom Petty and John Lennon/Yoko Ono. Except for the latter’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” the tunes are largely unfamiliar, making this disc stand out. There’s much variety, from rock to funk to pop. Each year at Christmastime, Love sings “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” from Phil Spector’s 1963 classic “Christmas Gift to You,” on Letterman (he sometimes tears up). Unfortunately, she doesn’t sing it here. But the similar “Please Come Home for Christmas” makes for a good substitute.
“A Christmas of Love” Keith Sweat (Rhino)
The master of the slow jam offers a soulful collection of mostly originals, some of which he co-wrote. The sensual opening cut, “Be Your Santa Claus,” sets the mood for a boudoir Christmas, as does “Party Christmas.” One cut, “Point Of Christmas,” reminds that “Christmas is about celebrating Christ.”
“Maluhia” Keali’i Reichel (Punahele)
If you can’t spend Christmas in Hawaii, this is the next best thing. Reichel, one of the Islands’ most popular entertainers, lends his lush voice to Hawaiian-language Christmas songs (the holiday is huge in Hawaii) and classics such as “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night.”
“A Toby Keith Classic Christmas” Toby Keith (Show Dog Nashville)
Macho man Keith shows his soft side in this excellent two-CD collection of carols, hymns and seasonal songs. The arrangements, featuring fiddles, mandolins, dobros and other traditional country instruments, are warm, rich and varied. The first disc is dedicated to popular favorites, the second to religious songs. This is no quick, money-making side project. Keith sings like he truly loves these songs, and the musicianship is superb.
“The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection” Taylor Smith (Big Machine Records)
The 17-year-old sensation became one of country’s newest stars in 2007, and she caps the year with this six-song CD available exclusively at Target stores. Her two originals, the nostalgic ballad “Christmas When You Were Mine” and the up-tempo, lighthearted and wise “Christmas Must Be Something More,” show her gift for songwriting, while her country-flavored interpretations of “Silent Night” and “White Christmas” show her versatility and strong singing voice.
“White Christmas” Martina McBride (Sony/BMG)
A re-release of her 1999 album, with new artwork and four new classic additions, highlighted by a swingin’, big-band duet with Dean Martin on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
“Hag’s Christmas” Merle Haggard (Capitol/EMI)
A digitally remastered version of Hag’s classic 1973 release, one of the finest country-music Christmas albums of all time, including such seldom-heard gems as “Grandma’s Homemade Christmas Card,” “Bobby Wants a Puppy for Christmas” and “Daddy Won’t Be Home Again for Christmas.”
“Hear Something Country Christmas” Various (BNA Records)
This new 14-song, 14-artist collection features six new tracks, including a soaring “Do You Hear What I Hear” by Carrie Underwood, a sassy “Santa Baby” by Kellie Pickler, a bluesy “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Keith Anderson, a bluegrass “O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Terri Clark, a beautiful “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Sara Evans and a sweet “Away In a Manger” by our own Blaine Larsen from Buckley. There are also well-chosen, previously released tracks by Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn and Johnny Cash.
“Country Christmas” Various (Capitol/EMI)
Newly compiled collection of 18 cuts, including some obscure songs by artists not usually included in such compilations, such as Alison Krauss’ bittersweet “Shimmy Down the Chimney,” Suzy Bogguss’ fiddle-driven “Two Step ‘Round the Christmas Tree” (with a dancin’ Santa in cowboy boots) and Steve Wariner’s lively “Christmas in Your Arms.”
“Still Believing in Christmas” Various (Seasong)
The recently deceased Porter Wagoner is represented here by “Happy Birthday Jesus,” one of seven original recordings in this 15-cut CD. Also new are T.G. Sheppard’s steel-drum-driven “Christmas In Mexico,” and Bill Anderson and the Jordonaires’ nostalgic talking-and-singing “Still Believing in Christmas.”
“Songs of the Season” Randy Travis (Word)
Travis has come back in a big way this year, and you can hear why listening to this, his first Christmas release in 18 years. His singing voice has matured, with an easygoing grace and an irresistible country accent. Included are two new songs, the sprightly “Nothing’s Gonna Get Me Down (At Christmas Time)” and the slow and sweet “Our King.”
“A Twismas Story” Conway Twitty (Alliance)
Available again for the first time since 1994, this remixed and remastered hourlong CD is a children’s story set to music, with multiple characters and songs such as “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jolly Ole Saint Nicholas” and “Christmas is for Kids.”
“Stockings by the Fire” Various (Starbucks)
Any collection that kicks off with the unmatched knockout classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Ray Charles & Betty Carter is a keeper. Leave it to Starbucks, whose ear for eminently listenable music is impeccable, to put together a variety of carols that brilliantly capture the season, with contributions from Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Krall, Rufus Wainwright, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Sarah McLachlan, Herbie Hancock backing Corinne Bailey Ray and others. Available at Starbucks stores.
“Best of Christmas Cocktails” Various (Capitol/EMI)
Get a kick out of Christmas with this kinky collection of highlights from the three previous “Christmas Cocktail” recordings, mostly from the 1950s and ’60s, including Ferrante & Teicher/Les Baxter’s zippy, choral-driven “Sleigh Ride/Santa Claus Party”; The Starlighters’ corny “Jing-A-Ling”; and the Hawaiian-flavored “Christmas Island” by Bob Atcher & The Dinning Sisters. Also includes tunes from Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, June Christy, Bing Crosby, Wayne Newton and others.
“Slow Jams For Christmas” Various (Capitol/EMI)
The latest in the long line of “Slow Jams” series is drawn from Christmas recordings by top R&B artists, including Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Nat King Cole & Natalie Cole, Bobby Womack, Luther Vandross, Faith Evans and more. The 20 cuts are uniformly well-chosen. Gaye’s aching “I Want To Come Home For Christmas” is from the point of view of a war prisoner. Evans turns in a sizzling “Santa Baby,” Boys II Men harmonize on a richly smooth “Let It Snow,” Jagged Edge funks up “This Christmas” and Nat & Natalie do “The Christmas Song” proud.
“Homeless For The Holidaze” Various (Sound Vision NW)
Recorded locally at Studio Litho in Fremont by a wide variety of local musicians, with a quarter of the proceeds going to benefit the homeless locally, this 17-track CD is a well-made, irreverent, fun-loving collection of mostly upbeat, sometimes silly songs, such as “The Stripper’s Holiday,” “(You’re A Mean One) Mr. Grinch,” “Jesus Super Freak” and “Santa Claus Is Shufflin’ To Town.” Buy it to help the homeless while adding some fun to your holiday.
“Christmas In The Northwest 10” Various (Children’s Music Fund)
A great Northwest tradition, this year’s edition includes a new song called “I Wanna Be Blake, I Wanna Be Sanjay”; a swing version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” performed in six languages by schoolchildren; and a new anthem, “Blessed in the Northwest.” Seventeen local artists contribute to the recording. Proceeds go to children’s hospitals in Washington and Oregon.
“Christmas With The Rat Pack” Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. (Capitol/EMI)
Ring-a-ding-ding, baby! The best from Frank, Dean and Sammy’s Christmas albums, including duets and a previously unreleased, delightful “Christmas Time All Over The World” by Sammy Davis Jr. Sinatra and Martin must’ve loved Christmas, because some of their finest work can be found on their holiday releases.
“Christmas With The Chipmunks” The Chipmunks (Capitol/EMI)
Of course you know the squeaking trio of Alvin, Simon and Theodore made the classic “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” but did you know they recorded two dozen other Christmas songs? They’re all here. Want to get your holiday party guests to leave? Just put this on and watch them scatter.
Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312 or email@example.com